JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
A tale by Johny Noer
THE FAREWELL MEETING
… tears should flow freely
The vet took his time inside the barn. I saw the his back through the window. He walked slowly among 6000 small puffy balls. When he came out, he had a dead chicken in his cupped hands. Shaking his head doubtfully, "Not much hope," he sighed. "They’ll all die!"
I looked at Erzsébet and Czabo, the young couple, who had just started this small private enterprise. It was something new in the former socialist country. They were shaken. If the 6000 small creatures died, it would mean total ruin to this little Hungarian family.
Days had come and gone; it was several weeks ago that we triumphantly arrived in Szeged, where our ‘pair of twins’ were received with rejoicing; everybody embraced and kissed the twin-girls, and everybody applauded the twin-wagons.
Then on a bright autumn day in the year 1990 the Pilgrim Convoy left Szeged, waved on by a crowd of happy new believers. In the following weeks it swept onward, with a series of powerful gospel meetings, along the Hungarian-Romanian border, until it reached a small town by the difficult name of Körösszegapáti. Erzsébet and Czabo turned up, together with a great crowd of villagers, in the local ‘culture house’ where they told me about their 6000 dying chickens.
"Let’s pray," I suggested, and so we did. The following day, the vet came out of the barn with the dead chicken. "Not much hope!" he repeated. We all looked through the dusty windows in the barn. A deadly silence hovered over the chickens. "They are dead," Erzsébet whispered. Czabo, who was a big, round man, nodded. He clasped her hand. "Sure, they are dead," he said.
Then suddenly a December-sun in the middle of the sky shone across the little grove. Beams of yellow sunshine filled the old barn, and life began its parade: Golden woolly balls tumbled around. "Look," Erzsébet whispered, "they beat their wings! They’re alive. The chickens are alive!"
Thefollowing Tuesday evening all the new believers of the whole area were invited to the home of Erzsébet and Czabo to take part in the weekly Bible-training. The rooms could hardly contain all the happy, laughing and rejoicing people. The little Baptist church in Körösszegapáti had been renewed. And the rumour spread: "The chickens are alive!"
The mayor of the town heard the good news. He was an elderly man with a short, military haircut on the sides and a wisp of grey hair hanging almost to his eyebrows. His suit was a three-piece, black in colour, made of at least ninety percent polyester. His tie was cheap imitation silk. He wasn’t much of a dresser, but there was a certain neatness about him. He was the mayor!
As a good old communist he was an atheist by confession. But he knew what a spiritual revival in the local Baptist church would mean for the town. Much of the drinking would stop, and the workplaces around might be filled with reliable people. Where the living faith in Jesus took the place of the old communist ideology, another lifestyle began.
One day the mayor visited the Pilgrim Camp with a group of local workers, all clothed in blue. He declared that he would plant 40 trees for the Pilgrim Convoy. "We will call this new park: ‘Pilgrim Park’, he said. "In the future this will remain a solemn sign between us and the Christian mission that brought new life to our town."
And the 40 trees were planted; exactly the number of members in the convoy.
I started to look north - towards the mighty Russian Empire! The harvest was great. "The fields are white," says Jesus. The worst winter since the 2nd World War in regard to food shortage was on its way into Russia.
"Is the Lord behind this?" I asked myself, as I remembered the word of the prophet of old: "I’ll give you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town… and I will send a famine through the land, not a famine of food but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 4:6 and 8:11). I heard how the borders in the north slowly opened up to make way for Western food transports, and I started to wonder, if they would open for a transport of ‘living bread’.
At the same time I was looking south - towards the turbulent Middle East. I had a secret letter to deliver. The latest resolution of the UN accepted the use of military power as a means to oust the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, out of occupied Kuwait.
Christmas was approaching. Winter winds started whirling over the grey houses and the grey walls and the grey towers of Körösszegapáti. I was reading Mary’s Christmas hymn of praise after receiving a message about ‘a son to be born’. "He has brought down rulers from their thrones" (Luke 1:51) – and I wrote in my new year greeting to my friends in Denmark and elsewhere: "It’s high time for the people of God to intercede instead of observing this dangerous crisis as ‘spectators’ (Psalm 91:8) – and I added to them the following prayer: "Cast down the Iraqi ruler from his throne, oh Lord. Eliminate this hater of Israel. Let innocent blood be spared and prevent the most terrible weapons from being turned against men, women and children."
At that time I heard that our dear and precious brother, Theodor Kübbert, from Dülmen in Germany after some months of illness had left us to be with the Lord – and I called his dear wife, Agnes, and said: "Through the valley of the shadow the Lord will be your comfort." She promised me to keep our mail-address in Europe for just another few months, until we could find another family, who would do this work for us. In the same period Bent and Martine returned to the camp with a new mobile kitchen, which Bent had built upon a huge Mercedes lorry. His family was growing as well. Together with him arrived from Denmark Oswald and Ingelise Nielsen with three children: Jan, Søren and Ditte. Baby number four was on its way: the beautiful little Esther, who was born in May 1991.
It was a moving farewell-meeting with the people of Körösszegapáti. The meeting-place was filled to capacity. Gisèle and I had already been invited at lunchtime to visit a younger couple, who had given their lives to the Lord a few weeks before. When the young woman during the farewell-meal could not keep her tears back any longer, her husband exclaimed: "Stop weeping! Spare your tears for tonight’s meeting!"
Now in a Hungarian farewell-meeting it is usual to weep, the Hungarian people are emotional; tears should flow freely. During the farewell-speech, white and coloured handkerchiefs could be seen here and there in the crowded hall, and women clothed in black buried their faces in them. Old and young men with red, weather-beaten cheeks wiped tears away with the palms of their hands. The town council headed by the schoolmaster and the mayor, along with their wives, had been seated in the first row, and it was expected that the mayor would make a speech on this auspicious occasion. It was a little difficult, as the mayor, during the former communist regime, on account of his official position, had to declare himself to be an atheist, on the other side he had been touched by the preaching of the gospel in these past weeks. Therefore he began his farewell-words with the following: "It has been a great experience for us all to have the Danish pilgrim-convoy visiting our town. I am an atheist, but I sincerely pray to God that he will bless our Danish friends!"
And the whole congregation agreed by nodding their heads. Nothing was more natural than the fact that the mayor was atheist and that he as such was earnestly praying to God that the Danish convoy should continue its journey with the blessing of God.
And then the fattened calf was slaughtered!
A huge pot with gas fire beneath was standing outside in the nearby snow-covered schoolyard; inside the school building, the school staff had laid blue-checked table clothes on long tables, at which the Danish families with their children were asked to take a seat. It was interesting to notice that the other guests, apart from a little group of Christians from the local Baptist church, were people from towns and villages who had accepted Jesus during one of these meetings which had taken place in the surroundings. A little flock of new converted gipsies from the neighbouring town of Komadi had also joined the festive circle. When the members of the Baptist church stood up and started singing the well known verses: "God be with you until we meet again," the moment had come where the wives of the town council deputies could keep their tears back no longer; they too had to weep – and all embraced each other and said goodbye.
The Pilgrim Convoy continued to the barren and rough border-area of Kisvarda, situated about a hundred miles to the north. The men were busy during the last days in order to prepare all vehicles for the slippery, icy roads. In Kisvarda a special chapter of our journey started. Let me explain:
Who could have imagined just a few years before that those 100-year old synagogues should suddenly wake up to new life? Who would dare to dream,, during the holocaust-massacre that burnt-out buildings with broken windows and torn Hebrew prayer books would again be filled with joyful Israeli worship songs?
Even if all this seemed impossible, sounds of joy were once again heard in Hebrew sanctuaries in parts of Central Europe, where the Danish Pilgrim Convoy passed by.
It all started in the Kisvarda synagogue! In four blessed Sabbath-meetings the old building with the Star of David was filled with Christians and Jews. In the middle of July 1991 unusual gatherings such as this continued in the synagogue of the Hungarian town of Máteszalka, which is, by the way, the synagogue where the Jewish-born Hollywood star, Tony Curtis, grew up. Thereafter the interpretation of the prophetic scriptures and Israeli praises were again to be heard by a larger congregation of Jews and Christians in the synagogue of Tokaj. Even the municipalities were excited about this renewal and were cleaning up the old, dusty and forgotten buildings. In spite of deeply rooted differences between local Christian denominations, the pastors slowly gathered together around Paul’s famous words: "Has God rejected His Jewish People? By no means!"
As the congregation in the synagogue of Kisvarda was singing: "Then the redeemed of the Lord shall return," and we were preaching that the returning Jews must go back to their land ‘with singing’ and as Isaiah explains, "With everlasting joy upon their heads," I once more realised that the Bible speaks about Jews, to whom something great has happened.
On that same occasion our message was especially directed to the prophetic words from Jeremiah: "See, I will bring them from the land of the north" and don’t we understand from Jeremiah’s famous chapter, that just as God made a covenant with Israel, when they came out of Egypt, likewise He will "make a new covenant with the house of Israel" (31:31) when they return form ‘the land of the north’?
In other words, the Jews who finally return home ‘as a great company’ (v.8) will come as a redeemed and joyful people; they will know the secret about the Messiah; they will know, who is the King of Israel, ‘for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest’, saith the Lord" (v.34).